Sunday, May 31, 2015

Our Summer in Provence

Today I saw Our Summer in Provence, starring Jean Reno and Lukas Pelissier.

When Irene (Anna Galiena) takes in her daughter's children for the summer as she navigates a new world as a divorcee, her husband Paul (Reno) is furious. He has been estranged from their girl for 17 years and feels she's dumping her children upon them unfairly.

The children, Adrien (Hugo Dessioux), Léa (Chloé Jouannet) and Theo (Pelissier), are equally unexcited to be there, used to the fast Paris lifestyle. In their eyes, Provence is rural and boring and lacks a strong Internet signal. Plus, Theo is deaf, so only his brother and sister know how to properly communicate with him via sign language.

They all get off to a rough start with Léa's rebelling like her mother, and Adrian's typical teenage laziness acting as a catalyst for frustration from his grandfather. It seems for a while that Theo, who is proud to help with the olive trees on their estate, may be the only one willing to embrace the change.

As the summer continues, a problem Paul is battling comes front and center, and the family reaches a turning point. I can't say more than that without spoiling the film, but it's conventional, yet powerful.

In fact, that's a great way to sum up the whole film: conventional, yet powerful.

Where the main plot and characters are painfully formulaic, their story is redeemed my superb acting, gorgeous scenery and an abundance of scenes that don't take the dramatic too far.

The film made me think of my own family's dynamics and made me yearn for another European summer.

Our Summer in Provence screened at the 41st annual Seattle International Film Festival.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

All Things Must Pass

Tonight I screened the documentary All Things Must Pass.

Full disclosure: I was a financial backer of this film by way of a Kickstarter donation in 2011 and my name does actually appear in the credits (1st name, 3rd column if anyone's looking). Since I had absolutely no creative control, I don't think it's a conflict of interest to script a review. If you disagree, then feel free to leave this page.

Now that I got that out of the way, let me tell you how much I loved the film (and am relieved/excited my modest contribution went toward making something so great).

The first ten years of my life in Portland, Oregon, I lived directly across the street from a mall, and in the corner of that mall was Tower Records. There was no place more sacred than this store. Because it was open 365 days a year, my parents made a habit of buying Christmas gift certificates for my sister and me, so we would shuffle across the street and spend hours deciding how to use them. They were the only store open on Christmas and we couldn't have been happier. We also had their free calendar hanging on our bedroom door every year. And numerous album flats they would discard into the trash if we didn't claim them first (Millennials: an album flat was a cardboard image of an album cover used to promote new records; like a poster, only more legit).

In high school, on an extended stay in Washington, DC for a journalism workshop, my new friends and I spent afternoons in the Tower Records store that was near our dormitory at George Washington University—a common bond amongst teenagers from different backgrounds.

When I moved to Seattle at age 23, I spent a lot of time at the Queen Anne Tower Records, attending midnight release parties for U2 albums, etc. I wept when it closed a few years later.

This film isn't about just me, though, it's about the millions affected by the collapse of this eternally likeable brand. Director Colin Hanks gets testimonials from those closest to the company (its founder and executive team, who all came up as clerks) and many notable musicians (Springsteen, Dave Grohl) about what the stores meant to them and what its loss meant to the greater community.

It may sound silly to personify a brand so passionately, but Tower was so much more than a brand, it's fitting in this context.

From the joyful beginning that stemmed from the founder's father's drugstore to the international expansion and fame the company got from its celebrity shoppers (i.e. Elton John, who gives a sincere interview about his obsession with the store here), there really wasn't anything like it and because the way we consume music has changed so much there probably won't be again.

For those who remember Tower's glory, the film will serve as a sort of personal time capsule; for those who are too young to remember, it offers a glimpse of the golden years.

An entertaining final verse, sung with a lot of heart.


Racing Extinction

Today I screened the documentary Racing Extinction.

There are lies, murder and an abundance of history lessons, but this isn't a war movie. It's a documentary about the war humans are declaring on our rapidly deteriorating earth.

Oscar-winning director Louie Psihoyos (famous for The Cove), teamed up with scientists, professors, photographers and technology innovators to deliver this gut punch of a wake up call, urging all of us to take action immediately.

So, what's the problem?

Well, there are a lot of them. Climate change. The market for 'exotic wildlife.' Methane generated by livestock. I could go on.

These are problems we hear about in abbreviated news mentions or headlines we see on articles we never get around to reading, but seldom do we submit to an emotional responsibility for them. Here, we do.

The photographer that is on a quest to take a picture of every species before it dies out especially got to me. Posing a petite frog for a close up or searching deep into the eyes of a tiger, we see the beings crying out for help in their own intimate way. Hearing a type of whale call out for a mate that no longer exists because their gender has been wiped out brought me to tears. Imagine being the last of your gender. Anywhere. Ever.

It's not all doom and gloom, though. We can slow some of these terrible things down if not prevent them completely. The film's official website invites you to take action, even if just one day at a time.

If we don't do something, the food we eat and the air we breathe will be a much different story in just a few decades.

Racing Extinction screened at the 41st annual Seattle International Film Festival.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

One Million Dubliners

Tonight I screened the documentary One Million Dubliners.

Our final resting place is something most of us try not to think about. At least not until later. When we're old.

But as the years go by, and more loved ones are lost, it's hard to avoid having the conversation about what the wishes we have in the event of the unthinkable.

For much of the residents of Dublin, Ireland, there's only one choice: Glasnevin Cemetery. Since 1828 everyone from the working class to the most famous of political activists have been buried there with the philosophy passed down from it's founder Daniel O'Connell, "To bury people of all religions and none."

Welcoming those of all faiths, as well as atheists and unborn/stillborn children, the cemetery has become such a cultural draw that it is now one of the most visited tourist attractions in Ireland. This film, narrated primarily by employees of the cemetery, tells the story of its history and how it cares so deeply for the dead.

Morbid, eh? Not really. With charismatic tour guide Shane MacThomais leading the charge, the tales told here are sometimes funny, or just merely fascinating. Some of the dead celebrities have "groupies" who visit regularly; some of the workers at Glasnevin have family members of their own there. None of it is boring.

As someone with a fair amount of Irish blood and an unabashed love for the country (and Dublin specifically), I'm ashamed to say I've never visited the site. Surely I have ancestors there—most people with Irish heritage do, because the dead in this cemetery outnumber the living population. After what I learned from this documentary, it will undoubtedly be a stop for me on my next trip to the Emerald Isle.

Anyone with a connection to Ireland should see it.


One Million Dubliners screened at the 41st annual Seattle International Film Festival.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Monkey Kingdom

Today I saw the documentary Monkey Kingdom, narrated by Tina Fey.

The film traces the lives of monkey families in Sri Lanka as they navigate a year in their natural jungle habitat. The most surprising element for this viewer? The strict class system that the primates adhere to, and for which dictate where they can hunt, eat, sleep, etc.

The heroine of the story is a gentle, "blue collar" monkey named Maya. She's a peaceful, calm girl who knows her place in society... at the bottom of the barrel. She doesn't try to challenge the "white collar" sisters who rule the roost; she merely keeps to herself on the bottom branch, carrying on her affair with a visiting monkey in another part of the forest.

Their love yields baby Kip, an adorable whippersnapper who clings to his mama as he learns the ropes of lower class life in the wild. We see her do what she has to do, like so many mothers do, to keep her little one safe. And yes, the father does run off for long periods of time.

The family survives monsoon season, various vicious predators and even a monkey-napping attack from others in their community. It's scary to watch, but almost comforting to know every species has to work hard to just to exist.

A venture into the city was the highlight of the film for me: monkeys stealing cake from a human birthday party; trying to sleep through the obnoxious street parade and dangling over open-air markets to steal fruit when no one was looking.

The delightful narration by Tina Fey only enhances the scenes, which are slow-paced, but not boring.

If you're a fan of nature and want to catch a glimpse of authentic jungle life, unharmed by our modern society, you could do worse than spending time with this film.